Church agency and the State’s failure to provide adequate supervision
Ms M was born in 1962 in Christchurch. She and her sister Janie were taken into care at seven when her mother and step-father died. The Department of Social Welfare and Anglican Social Services, an agency affiliated with the Anglican Church, were both involved in their care, although neither wanted to accept responsibility for them.
Anglican Social Services placed the sisters with foster parents, but no one came to check on them in the five years they lived there. Their foster father was abusive. He was later charged with unlawful sexual conduct towards both sisters but was acquitted after a trial.
The sisters were then separated. The family Janie was placed with did not want her to have contact with her sister. They lost touch until their 30s. Janie died at 51. “Janie was my everything ... Janie would be [giving evidence] if the effects of years of trauma hadn’t taken her life at the age of 51. She would have stood alongside me to tell her story.”
Ms M said that after the trial each of her carers was told about what had happened, and she considered this gave them licence to abuse her. “I do not believe that a complainant in a trial should be labelled as a liar just because the accused is acquitted. I believe by ‘warning’ all my foster parents, those men were given a green light to abuse me because they knew no one would believe me.”
Ms M was also sexually abused by another foster parent, who later adopted her. She reported him to Police when she was 28. Police did not lay charges, despite her adoptive father’s admission that he had had sexual intercourse with her. Police told her they did not think they could win the case because she was around 16 or 17 when the offending began and the trial with her first foster father could be used to discredit her.
In the late 1980s, both sisters applied for ACC compensation. Ms M found ACC difficult to deal with. She was declined an independence allowance because of a miscalculation of her entitlement.
In 2010, Ms M contacted the Christchurch diocese of the Anglican Church to seek redress. She was told someone would get back to her, but no one ever did.
In 2012, she contacted the Confidential Listening and Assistance Service, which was set up to hear from survivors of abuse in care. The Ministry of Social Development then got in touch. It acknowledged the delay in processing her claim and offered to put it through its fast-track process. She felt pressured to take up this option and was concerned she would receive no compensation if she chose not to. She accepted an offer in 2015, but was told she needed to spend the settlement money within a year or it could affect her benefit. She was also required to provide receipts to prove her spending was not reckless.
She felt these conditions were intrusive and unjustified.
“If I had other money, say from an inheritance or I was able to work full-time, then no one could interfere with how I spent the compensation money. It’s like they want to keep you poor.”
Ms M and her advocate tried to work with Work and Income New Zealand to find a solution, but were unable to do so. She was left feeling frustrated at the process. “The settlement money became tainted. I felt like I was being raped over and over again by the system that claimed good faith to redress an historical abuse. Someone said something to me about the money being for my future. I realised then that I didn’t believe in a future.”
After giving evidence at the faith-based redress hearing, the church approached her to discuss settlement options. Those discussions are continuing.
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